Tag Archives: 19th century spiritualism

The Mystery of the Ouija

I’m still playing the vagabond on my Tour of Fives blog tour (at K.B. Owen’s place tomorrow talking about 5 Reasons I’ve Come to Appreciate History). So we’re doing something special here today.

It’s Metaphysical Monday with Kirsten Weiss.

Take it away, Kirsten!

One of the things my metaphysical detective, Riga Hayworth, has not done to summon the dead is use a Ouija board. In my mystery novels, this is for practical reasons – Riga doesn’t have to summon the dead. They’re constantly underfoot.

But Ouijas are cool. (Unless you think they’re demonic; then they’re bad.)

It’s unclear where the name, “Ouija,” came from. Back in the 19th century era of spiritualism, mediums and table knocking were the rage. But contacting the departed was also complicated. Automatic writing often produced nonsense, and rapping for letters (one knock for A, two knocks for B…) took a boring amount of time.

Innovations resulted, such as a dial plate with numbers and letters set into a wooden table. These inventions grew in complexity. Even more elaborate devices, such as Robert Hare’s Spiritoscope, were developed to prevent fraud.

A Spiritoscope

A Spiritoscope

But you needed to be a professional, or obsessed, to afford one of these contraptions.

spiritoscopes used to catch fraudulent mediums

Spiritoscopes were designed to keep mediums honest, but they were expensive.

The early iteration of a Ouija board married the French invention of a planchette, used for automatic writing, with an alphabet board – a board with letters printed on it – to create the “talking board.”

a planchette

Planchette circa 1860’s (photo by Brandon Hodge, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The religious community reacted predictably to the spiritualist craze, labeling it necromancy. And technically, since any calling up of the dead is necromancy, they were right.

Perhaps that’s why in February, 1810, Charles Kennard and his Kennard Novelty Company patented the Ouija board – not as an occult item, but as a party game. This likely broadened its marketing appeal. But the board didn’t take off until the 1960s, when Parker Brothers bought the rights to the board, selling two million boards in 1967.

Ouija Board

I know psychics who swear Ouija boards are portals to hell, and refuse to keep them in the house. Others say they’re just paint and wood, and much like Tarot cards or any other tool, can be used responsibly, or not.

What do you think of Ouija boards? Did you play with them at sleepovers or Halloween parties when you were a kid?

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten is the author of the Riga Hayworth paranormal mystery novels: The Metaphysical Detective, The Alchemical Detective, The Shamanic Detective, and The Infernal Detective (click on the books in the carousel above to see more about them). Each book explores a different branch of magic. Book 5, tentatively titled The Elemental Detective, will explore Hawaiian magic and huna. She’s also working on a Steampunk YA mystery, which might just feature a steam-powered Spiritogram.

We blog here at misterio press once or twice a week, sometimes about serious topics, and sometimes just for fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)